Cheated

// 11 February 2010

Was anyone else appalled by Labour’s proposals, announced earlier this week, to give a monetary reward to people who inform on benefit ‘cheats’? I think it’s a disgusting way to exploit people living in poverty and encourage them to turn on each other rather than feel any kind of empathy or desire to work together to fight against the government’s determination to vilify them in exchange for middle and upper class votes.

No doubt some people do take the piss when it comes to benefits – so making life harder for genuine claimants – but given that the system is absurdly complicated, stuffed with unfair rules and does not give adequate provision to many people, ‘cheating’ may amount to nothing more ‘immoral’ than doing what you can to get the money you would be entitled to in a fairer society. I can’t condemn that. My only personal experience of benefits is with Job Seekers’ Allowance, and given my frustration at not being able to claim it because I live with my boyfriend, I can fully empathise with those who ‘cheat’ by hiding their cohabitation status. Surely the solution is to overhaul the benefits system, not to create a network of community snitches.

How can we trust the figures on the numbers of benefit ‘cheats’ when some people with disabilites and debilitating illnesses are being unreasonably and unfairly deemed capable of working and ineligible for certain benefits and extra support finding employment due to the introduction of an overly stringent Work Capability Test administered by a private company and designed to save the government money? No doubt the Daily Mail will be proclaiming all these people ‘cheats’, yet they are the ones who have really been cheated.

Corporations continue to fleece us out of billions of pounds through elaborate tax evasion schemes, yet the government spends its time thinking up cunning ways to stamp down on the most underprivileged members of our society. Thanks, New Labour.

It’s this kind of thing that fills me with despair at the thought of the coming elections. Lose/lose even harder, anyone?

Comments From You

earwicga // Posted 11 February 2010 at 5:32 pm

Thank you Laura.

I am appalled at everything that New Labour have done with the Welfare System. It’s expected under the Tories, but that a Labour government is punitive towards those in need of Welfare is somehow even more disgusting.

How about a government campaign to reward people when they get somebody to sign up for benefits they hitherto hadn’t claimed despite being eligible?

earwicga // Posted 11 February 2010 at 5:35 pm

Just look at the first published comment below the line:

“Maybe they could trial it at Westminster first and see if it works there.”

With 723 recommends! Although this probably reflects a dislike of politicians more than a dislike of the policy, it has made me smile.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 11 February 2010 at 5:49 pm

The ‘irony’ was not lost on me given MPS and Peers continue to claim ‘but I didn’t make any false claims in respect of my ‘rightful’ (sic) expense claims.

As always, one law for the powerful and another one for subordinated groups.

The benefits system is simultaneously punitive and perceives all claimants as supposedly innately disposed to ‘cheat’ tax payers. Furthermore the meagre benefit paid to anyone claiming benefits is in fact below the poverty line. When one compares the punitive measures being levied at women and men who rightfully claim benefits and the huge amounts of money MPS and Peers have falsely claimed from the public purse – there is no comparison. Apart from asking which group is being demonised? MP’s or benefit claimants?

And no, most benefit claimants are not ‘scroungers’ although certain tabloid media consistently makes such false claims. I cannot however, say the same with regards to greedy MP’s and Peers who have all made a calculated decision to engage in making false claims which are not minuscule but concern very large amounts of money.

Shea // Posted 11 February 2010 at 5:55 pm

Yes, we lose every which way at the coming election.

The Tobin tax could provide up to £700 billion (more than enoyugh to impact the deficit). But Labour are more concerned with trampling the little people than going after the causes of the current economic crisis.

Its not even just coproration, there are plenty of wealthy individuals (non-doms anyone?) who get away with not paying the amount of tax they should. But no Labour are quibbling a few million, that probably isn’t even wrongly claimed anyway.

If anyone can cheat the elaborate and fiendishly complex benefit system to falsely claim, well good luck to them

Denise // Posted 11 February 2010 at 6:14 pm

Thanks for posting about this, Laura. It is absolutely contemptible, do we want a society where people are paid to inform on one another?! I’m sure a lot of people already do that without being paid! And that they get it wrong in a lot of cases.

These big organisations bleeding society dry with their huge tax evasions and bonuses (for what!) unfortunately also have huge political clout. The government isn’t going to pick on people who can fight back, are they?! Bullies don’t do that.

gadgetgal // Posted 11 February 2010 at 8:43 pm

I actually know a few people who would be classed as “benefit cheats” and there’s no way I’d ever “inform” on them (or grass up? tell on? weren’t we always taught these were bad things unless some terrible crime was involved?)! I mean come on – there are very very few people who can cheat the benefits system and actually make more than a livable life off it. Like you I’m more concerned at the big corporate tax evaders, now that’s what I would call theft!

And as for the next election it’s just dismal – our choices are between this rotten lot and the other rotten lot. Only today one minister was saying how having your home repossessed could be “the best option”:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8510997.stm

GRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!

FeminaErecta // Posted 12 February 2010 at 9:28 am

My favourite thing at the moment is that they are actually bringing back the stocks! I heard on local commercial radio the other day an advert by the Ministery of Justice (war is peace, freedom is slavery, we are your masters, etc etc) that they are bringing in a scheme where Bad People who have done Dreadful Things like Crime and Evil are going to walk around wearing orange hi-vis doing jobs ‘for the community’. If you see one of these Wrong Doers in their vests you can get them do do basically anything you want, for free, and they have to do it. So if you need some gardening work done or whatever, then you get it done on the cheap. You can go on a website to find out where the Wrong Doers will be on display. Two things worry me about this, one when are going to get to the stage where Wrong Doers actually have to lick the pavement clean in order for their victims to feel justice has been done(having said that, the bastard who stole my laptop the other day can lick my toilet clean and I’ll still want to kill them!) and secondly, what happens when some member of the community subsequently sues the Ministry of Justice becaus the Evil Ones mowed their lawn in the wrong pattern, or whatever?

angercanbepower // Posted 12 February 2010 at 12:18 pm

FeminaErecta,

I agree that Community Payback is a fairly disgraceful attempt to garner public support by further ostracising some of the most socially excluded people (although it’s perhaps not quite as bad as you make out – suggested tasks have to be approved by the contractor delivering the service as beneficial to the local community).

However, the most insulting part is that it’s being sold by the Probation Service to ex-offenders and organisations that work with them as the ‘Unpaid Work Scheme’, an opportunity for people to get some experience and prepare themselves for the world of employment. Indeed.

Er, that’s quite off-topic, isn’t it? In response to Laura, well, I pretty much agree that vilifying benefit claimants right now is fairly transparent pandering to Daily Mail readers in the run up to May.

However, please don’t get despondent! Politics is probably always going to seem lose/lose to feminists and allies, but there is a massive difference between Labour and the Tories winning the next election (especially as this type of populism is likely to subside after an election if Labour by some miracle do win). But if people like us aren’t eager for Labour to win, what hope is there? Oh god, now I’m getting despondent…

FeminaErecta // Posted 12 February 2010 at 12:19 pm

@ gadgetgal

No we haven’t just got a choice between one or t’other! Stand! All you need (all you need, ha!) is £500 and ten signitures and you’re an independent candidate! Do it! My mate is, shes standing AGAINST hard-working families on the ethos that she doesn’t know any, and instead is represneting everyone else who doens’t fit into the Daily Mail’s idea of what Britain should be- I’m her agent, its gonna be ace! Probably will only just get our deposit back but at least we’re doing something rather than just moaning, you won’t see me wearing a ‘don’t blame me, I didn’t vote Cameron’ t-shirt in ten years time!

Kristin // Posted 12 February 2010 at 2:59 pm

Femina Erecta, I thought some people had protested against being made to wear those orange hi-vi things, and their protests had been upheld because it was considered a violation of their human rights…? That must have changed then.

They won’t need to bring back the stocks, there are still plenty of working mediaeval models lying around on ol’ village greens up and down our brave land! Conveniently situated outside pubs. Of course they might want to construct a few shiny new models for cities. The Ministry for the Prevention of Evil and Punishment of Vice probably hasn’t thought through the potential problems, like what would be considered reasonable force and appropriate distance for rotten cabbages or eggs flung at the Evil Person? How long can they be left there and in what weather, and what about drunks abusing their pelting privileges? Can you pee on Evil Persons, for instance? Swear at them?

I’m joking, but this is really depressing.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 12 February 2010 at 3:48 pm

@ FeminaErecta- Or what happens when the criminals sue the government for being assaulted, verbally abused or whatever.

In ye olden days, people in the workhouse used to have to wear workhouse overalls which signalled their poverty status (often brightly coloured) to the rest of the neighbourhood (although their sin was poverty not crime). It was often felt by the wearers as the most shameful and dehumanising element of workhouse provision. And given the complex relationship between poverty and crime, I am not sure that a shaming mechanism is the most appropriate way of dealing with crime at all.

Amy Clare // Posted 12 February 2010 at 7:07 pm

This isn’t a new idea unfortunately; incentives to inform have been proposed before. There have been TV adverts in the past along the lines of ‘do you know anyone who is claiming while working’ etc, if I remember right. And the ideology behind it is millennia old: ‘divide and conquer’.

Stories like these, together with the disability benefit reforms, together with the ‘we’re watching you’ adverts currently on telly, all combine to give the general public the impression that our society is being robbed blind by benefits cheats and that every claimant is on the fiddle (when for incapacity benefit, for example, the fraud level stands at about 1% of claims). I don’t like to believe that the govt is conspiring against poor people, but when I look at the way they make a fuss about benefits while calmly ignoring tax avoidance leads me to believe that they are doing this deliberately. There is no other explanation, because they are apparently some of the country’s most intelligent people and they know full well what the statistics on benefit fraud say. It is scapegoating, pure and simple, and it is so blatant as to be completely shameless. They will get away with it too, as usual.

I don’t feel that a Labour or Tory govt is inevitable, however – call me naive, but I think that it is possible to vote the Lib Dems in. (DISCLAIMER: I’m not 100% acquainted with their manifesto but I have read some good things so far.) It’s the media largely that keeps us from considering them as a possibility. They’ve got a reputation as being unelectable which has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, however, people’s votes win elections, and if enough people voted for ’em, they’d win.

I’m not a member of the Lib Dems by the way (!), but I would love to see Brown’s/Cameron’s faces if they did get in. Imagine that!

Oh and Laura, you are right about the new Work Capability Assessment – it is so strict as to be a completely useless tool for assessing capability for work! It is a clear case of goalpost-moving.

Also, there are billions of pounds in unclaimed benefits out there, whether through people getting awarded the wrong amount, or not claiming at all despite being eligible. It would be nice if the govt reminded the general public of this, and provided adverts encouraging people to go to their nearest CAB or Welfare Rights office and check what they’re entitled to. Or even better, offered cash incentives for helping a fellow human being out by advising them to get a benefits check-up.

But then that might lead to money being spent on poor people, which as we all know, stops money being spent on rich people.

Liri // Posted 12 February 2010 at 7:55 pm

Just a thought – but the JSA issue is something the tories (yes you heard me right) want to sort out – they think you shouldn’t be penalised for being in a relationship.

As for the benefit cheats issue, they clearly haven’t researched their audience. A GCSE Psychology student could tell them their idea wouldn’t work – and why!

Plus I bet the amount they spend marketing this FAR outweighs the amount they actually get though the idea.

It’s another ridiculous, ill thought out idea from a ridiculous government trying to make a tiny dent in a massive amount of debt we should never have got into.

Laura // Posted 15 February 2010 at 12:34 pm

@ angercanbepower,

I agree a Labour government would be better than a Tory, but I worry that retaining power will cause Labour to continue with their more right-wing policies in an effort to please voters, whereas the Tories winning might give them the kick up the arse they need to get back to their proper, socialist roots and ditch all this poor people and immigrant bashing, foundation hospitals, academy schools, target-obsessed, warmongering bollocks. I don’t want a Tory government, but I think it might be necessary. Hence my despondency.

@ Amy Clare,

I too like some of the Lib Dem’s manifesto and constitution, but what I’ve heard about their work at a local level is not good. Their approach to equality seems to be one of ‘treat everyone the same’, rather than recognising that we’re not all starting from the same point and that different groups need different levels of support, and that worries me. I agree it’d give politics a much needed shake-up if they won, though…

gadgetgal // Posted 15 February 2010 at 12:49 pm

@FeminineErecta – that’s sounds brilliant! If I had £500 I’d get one of my friends to do it (I wouldn’t out of shyness, I’m afraid – I’m not totally shy but I get debilitating stage fright, I don’t think it would go down too well!). I have actually been looking at smaller parties to vote for – the Greens are doing a lot of good work in my area, and my cousin is a local counsellor down south for them, so they could get my vote this year. I like some of their national policies as well. I just think this government needs a shake-up, and maybe lots of independents and smaller, more liberal parties will be able to do that by forcing the larger parties to work with them. I don’t know, I’m still waiting for proportional representation, I’d like my votes to count at the local AND national level, and not have one curtail the other!

Good luck to you and your friend, by the way – I’m betting feminist policies are big on your agenda so more power to you!! :)

Cycleboy // Posted 15 February 2010 at 12:56 pm

Centuries ago, the ‘establishment’ brought in laws to prevent poor people drinking cheap gin. In the Victorian period, high class people would take laudenum (an opium based concoction) with impugnity, yet the police would raid opium dens; mainly frequented by the poor.

In all cases, it seems that misbehaviour by the richer echelons of society is ignored, even approved of, but woe betide anyone poor who does so.

angercanbepower // Posted 15 February 2010 at 3:07 pm

Amy Clare,

Where did you get that 1% fraud level figure from? I don’t see how anyone can know the level of people fraudulently claiming benefits, only those of people who have been caught, which will of course be lower (how much lower? We have no idea). Also, does that stat just refer to incapacity benefit, which you can only get if you were already claiming prior to 2008, or does it also refer to its replacement, Employment and Support Allowance?

Laura,

While a Tory government could make Labour more left-wing (though I doubt it), it seems unlikely that it will lead to us having a government who are more left-wing. As you know, after 1979 Labour shifted at first significantly to the left, but this caused all sorts of internal strife and eventually the SDP splintered away from the party leaving them less electable than ever. This was despite the Conservatives many failures: the destruction of the manufacturing industry, massive inflation, two oil price shocks, recession, the hasty and embarrassing withdrawal from the ERM etc.

Labour only became electable (or at least elected – and given the above weaknesses in the opposition I would say electable) after they explicitly abandoned socialism in their withdrawal of Clause 4 in 1995. I very much doubt they’re going to go back to it now – we saw in Mitterand’s France in 1981-83, and we’re still seeing right now in Greece, that the only way to please markets is fiscal prudence. I think being out of power for 18 years is still pretty fresh in Labour’s memory and if they lost the coming election they’re much more likely to lurch to the right to gain popularity and appear credible to the markets.

earwicga // Posted 15 February 2010 at 3:14 pm

@ Laura

“I don’t want a Tory government, but I think it might be necessary. Hence my despondency.”

Forgive me if this sounds like an attack (because it isn’t), but speaking as somebody who has lived under a tory administration this seems like a very misguided comment to make. I wasn’t a single parent under the last administration, but I remember well their attacks on single parents. I also think that a new tory govt would be disasterous for LGBT human rights – which is one of the few areas that New Labour can be championed for.

The only thing the tories stand for is keeping the rich rich and the rest of us can go to hell.

Laura // Posted 15 February 2010 at 3:31 pm

Hi earwicga,

I completely agree they’d be absolutely awful for anyone but the rich. I just feel Labour have sold out in many areas and I desperately want them to change. I can’t see them doing so if they win the election. But I don’t want a Tory government either. What I mean is that I hope that if Labour do lose, they come back reinvigorated and less NuLab. I just feel completely fed up about the whole thing. So, yes, a bit of a throw-away comment there, sorry. I think I should really get involved in party politics at a local level instead of just getting angry about it…

earwicga // Posted 15 February 2010 at 4:03 pm

I do share your despondency Laura. Not sure why I felt the need to write the previous comment really, but the thought of a tory govt really does scare me. Perhaps the best we can hope for is a hung parliament?

Please don’t let me push you into local party politics! By continuing to criticise New Labour with posts like this one is an important contribution. Perhaps NL will finally realise why their core supporters are so disillusioned and disappointed with them. Or perhaps I would be better off talking to pixies. But we have to try…

HarpyMarx // Posted 15 February 2010 at 4:16 pm

“What I mean is that I hope that if Labour do lose, they come back reinvigorated and less NuLab. I just feel completely fed up about the whole thing”.

But Laura from experience it doesn’t happen. If the Tories win the election it won’t reinvigorate the LP, there’s a good chance the opposite will happen. From past experiences of Labour losing elections (’83, ’87 and ’92) there was no reassessment nor a desire to become more left-wing, instead they usually blamed the left for their defeats. Certainly, the witch hunts in the LP intensified during the eighties. Everyone else was blamed except for the woefully pathetic and right-wing leadership. If in doubt witch hunt those ‘orrible lefties, the climate was nasty (I was a LP member from mid-80s onwards) and witnessed the results.

I know that was then and this is now but knowing the bureaucracy in the LP they will blame everyone else for their defeat. I also (personal opinion) wouldn’t be surprised if the LP split, there are already different factions within NL, and their behaviour is nothing short than fighting like rats in a bag while shafting their core voters. If was to have been a shift in their politics, more principled social democratic policies then I think it woulda happened by now with the recession. But NL is beholden to neoliberalism and they have not ditched it, and doubt if they will.

In the meantime I certainly will be canvassing for left MPs like Corbyn, McDonnell and so on. I want Labour to win the next election and will be canvassing for principled MPs.

And Laura, canvass for a leftie MP like Corbyn or McDonnell…they need lots of people to on the ground. :)

Amy Clare // Posted 15 February 2010 at 4:28 pm

@angercanbepower:

I’m basing the 1% figure on the following document:

http://www.tuc.org.uk/extras/disabledjobs.doc

which shows, on page 5, a table detailing figures from 2004-5 for all benefits. Incapacity Benefit is shown to have a fraud level of 1.1% (as a proportion of all benefit fraud) or 0.1% (as a proportion of spending on Incapacity Benefit as a whole).

So when I said that the fraud level was around 1% of *claims*, that wasn’t quite accurate and I apologise, but you can see from the TUC table that Incapacity Benefit fraud is a *tiny* percentage both of IB spending as a whole and benefit fraud as a whole.

The figures come from before ESA came in, but I wouldn’t be expecting statistics for ESA yet, it’s way too early.

Clearly, it is only people who ‘get caught’ who are included in the figures, but this is true for any crime. There is no reason to suspect that the so-called ‘dark figure’ is higher for benefit fraud than it is for other crimes.

Particularly regarding IB, as contrary to what newspaper articles often suggest, a person who needs to claim IB is often no better off than one claiming JSA, as Housing Benefit is reduced to compensate for the extra amount per week an IB claimant receives. Only people who are supported by a waged partner would see a difference. And then there is the prospect of long, complicated forms, and medicals.

There is little incentive for a healthy person to try and defraud the DWP by claiming IB. Furthermore the hoops one has to jump through are so strict that many genuinely ill people are regularly declared fit for work. The chances of a healthy person getting through this system are slim. So I’ve no problem at all in accepting that the figure in the stats is reasonably accurate.

angercanbepower // Posted 15 February 2010 at 5:17 pm

Amy Clare,

“Clearly, it is only people who ‘get caught’ who are included in the figures, but this is true for any crime. There is no reason to suspect that the so-called ‘dark figure’ is higher for benefit fraud than it is for other crimes.”

But what is it for other crimes? We don’t know. In fact, there is no single figure for other crimes. We all know that that the number of convicted rapes, for example, is vastly lower than the number of rapes which occur. Conviction rates for arson and serious wounding are also very low (although not as low). The actual figure is going to be a function of how difficult the crime is to prove, the incentive the police have to catch people etc.

Anyway, I agree that there is very little reason to fraudulently claim ESA. It’s just that, given that the basis of the government’s scheme is that they want to catch the hordes of people they believe are falsely claiming benefits and remaining under the radar, it does not seem to me the strongest rebuttal to say that only a small percentage of false benefit claimants have been caught. But perhaps this is just pedantry.

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